Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Microsoft helps launch study to map COVID-19 immune response

The aim of the study, launched in partnership with Adaptive Biotechnologies, is to help create an immune scan that could be used to help reopen society.

Microsoft on Tuesday announced it's partnering with a Seattle-based biotechnology firm to launch a virtual clinical study to map the immune response to COVID-19. The study is an extension of the joint effort Microsoft launched with Adaptive Biotechnologies in 2018 to build a better understanding of how the adaptive immune system works, using immunosequencing and machine learning. 

The ultimate aim of this new clinical study, called ImmuneRACE, is to help create an immune scan that could be used to help reopen society. 

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"Immune response data may augment what we have been learning to date to help determine who is at greater risk of developing more severe symptoms and may help with future containment efforts," Peter Lee, corporate VP of AI and Research for Microsoft, said in a statement. "Anyone who has been affected by COVID-19 holds key information that can help contain and manage the virus." 

The ImmuneRACE study will enroll 1,000 individuals from more than 20 metropolitan areas in the US that have been impacted by the pandemic. Specifically, the study requires participants between the ages of 18 and 89 who either currently have COVID-19, have recently recovered from it or were exposed to someone diagnosed with it. 

The life sciences firm LabCorp will manage the collection of blood samples from study participants, as well nose/throat swabs. The company will send a phlebotomist to participants' homes to collect the samples, using personal protective equipment to safely conduct the visit.

From there, scientists will take the blood samples to measure the presence of T cells -- specialized immune system cells in the blood that quickly identify disease and proliferate to combat infection. Microsoft and Adaptive Biotechnologies will work together to map and measure how T cells respond to COVID-19. 

The two companies have already jointly created an approach to understanding the genetics of the adaptive immune system with a TCR-Antigen Map -- a map of T-cell receptor (TCR) sequences to diseases and disease-associated antigens created with  immunosequencing and machine learning.

The data collected from ImmuneRACE, including how the immune system identifies the virus and how people are responding to the virus, will be integrated with data obtained from samples provided by hospitals and other institutions across the globe. Additionally, de-identified data will be made freely available to public health officials, academia and industry researchers studying the pandemic.